The office is a convergence of people with different working styles, contrasting worldviews, varying personal values and diverse personalities. This means we can expect one thing: conflict. Conflict does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. It produces energy and if that energy is channelled in a positive direction, many positive outcomes can be achieved. The worst thing we can do, however, is to ignore conflict. Rather, it is best to face the conflict head-on and strive to find ways to manage it.
In order to manage conflict effectively, we first need to understand the cause. Once we identify the root of the conflict, it is easier to take the appropriate steps to resolve it. By staying realistic and understanding that conflict cannot necessarily be avoided, we can develop strategies that will get us through those rough patches in the office.
Although there are wide range of factors than can trigger conflict, I will discuss:
- Common causes of conflict in the office
- Ways to manage conflict effectively.
Common Causes of Conflict in the Office:
Everyone has his own working style. Some people may perform better under pressure and for that reason they tend to leave everything to the last minute, while others are organized and love to plan ahead. They prefer working at an even pace. Your colleague may be neat while you appear to be disorganized. The one person may have very good time management skills while the other tends to run behind with everything often holding up his co-workers in the process. When people are less accepting of others’ working styles this may lead to conflict.
The way one person views an event in the office may not necessarily be the same way in which another person views it. Our views are often shaped by our upbringing and experiences in life and therefore it becomes unique and intricate. These varying worldviews may give rise to conflict in the office because what one person views as extremely upsetting or important, may be viewed in a completely different light by his co-worker.
What may be seen as a threat to his integrity for the one person, may be completely acceptable to another person giving rise to conflict.
For some, life in the office would be too dull without the thrill of a little gossip. This may appear harmless but can undermine trust between co-workers and lead to unnecessary conflict.
Conflict can be either good or bad, depending on how it is managed. When conflict is managed successfully it can assist in both professional and personal growth of the parties involved. It can boost understanding among colleagues. Successful management of conflict facilitates mutual respect. However, if not managed effectively, conflict can have crippling effects on professional relationships. It can become personal and affect not only the work atmosphere, but also productivity as people start to lose focus on what really matters and wear themselves out because of the conflict.
Effective Conflict Management in the Office:
- Make an effort to be more accepting of others’ working style and learn to be more flexible. Rigid attitudes often cause conflict, not only in the office, but in personal relationships too. It’s not fair on others if we make our way of doing the universal law for doing things. Leave space and try to see that the different working styles of your colleagues may actually lead to pooling of diverse gifts and talents and contribute as a whole to the growth of the team towards the goal.
- Open communication and transparency is essential. Gossip undermines trust and may cause irreparable damage to professional relationships. When we speak openly about our grievances we can sabotage the cultivation of gossip and people making their own assumptions. First go to the person with whom you have the problem. Avoid first telling everyone else in the office about it or telling his superiors. Telling everyone else first breeds gossip and may intensify the conflict causing a downward spiral which may become challenging to resolve.
- Respect the fact that people are different. Not everyone can be the same. Our way of doing is not necessarily the best way of doing. By respecting others we will be open to learn and grow.
- A good relationship with co-workers is important. When we learn to separate the problem from the person it paves the way for better understanding and managing conflict should it arise. It allows us to focus on the actual problem instead of nursing personal grudges. Tackle the problem head-on, not the person. Most people are not deliberately trying to make life difficult for others. Winning all the arguments cannot be placed before winning the relationship with your co-worker.
- Practice the art of listening. Listening intently to the other person’s point of view helps you to gain a better understanding. It takes skill to listen more than we talk, but it is an essential part of effective communication. Learn to slow yourself down when you listen to others and keep those urges to voice your view in check. In this way you will enable yourself to listen more intently to what they have to say and places you in a position to answer them more patiently.
- When discussing possible solutions, keep the tone of your voice non-confrontational. A wrong tone of voice can add fuel to the fire. Having the right attitude is more important than having all the right answers. If you have a bad attitude people will be less inclined to listen to your answers even if they should be right. Most times people are more responsive to our attitudes and actions than they are to our words.
- Avoid jumping to conclusions before examining the situation properly and forming a whole picture of what is going on.
- Find what you have in common with the person with whom you are experiencing the conflict and start working from there. Once this is in place it is easier to discuss differences without defensiveness. From this point, ideas can be shared in a more accepting atmosphere and therefore it will be easier to find solutions.
There are many ways to manage conflict and it’s important to find a way that works best for you. However, effective conflict management should achieve respect for individual differences while helping each other to avoid becoming entrenched in the conflict mindset. Getting stuck in fighting mode will drain your energy and leave less energy available for stuff that really matters. The aim in resolving conflict should not be to prove you are right and the other person is wrong. It is about promoting better understanding and effecting a positive change that will grow your relationship with your colleagues leaving you free to focus on the common goals of the company.